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Summer Opera Workshop Marries Persistence, Tradition

July 19, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Kim Mathie

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Sam Houston State University opera students will present a workshop presentation of Mozart’s beloved opera “The Marriage of Figaro” on August 10-11 at 7:30 p.m. in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center Recital Hall.

The “low-budget” summer presentation will focus on the students and their singing will feature 10 vocal performance and music education majors, according to Rebecca Grimes, director of the Opera Workshop.

Though the School of Music has not traditionally held a summer Opera Workshop, Grimes decided to host one this year after being approached by vocal performance graduate Courtney Stancil and senior music education major Lindsey Fuson in order to gain valuable performing experience, Grimes said.

Opera students typically gain this kind of experience through summer study through programs with opera companies throughout the U.S. and abroad in places like Italy and Austria, but the cost can be prohibitive, ranging from $500 to $5,000 for programs that run from two to six weeks.

Once Grimes was onboard to produce and direct, the mixture of ten vocal performance majors and music education majors chipped in to pay for Rob Hunt, an adjunct opera professor at SHSU who gigs professionally during the summer, to be musical director.

They chose Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” sung in Italian, and which Grimes, along with Stancil and Fuson, are whittling down to its musical essentials.

“When Lindsey approached me about doing this she thought we could do something like the musical ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ and employ a narrator,” Grimes said. “Then we could keep the bulk musical sections but fill in the story gaps.”

While the workshop’s primary purpose is to provide a necessary experience for opera students, it’s a unique one for Huntsville audiences, according to Grimes.

“It’s a great chance to transform a complex opera sung in Italian and demystify it for all involved,” she said.

“The Marriage of Figaro” is based on the second in a series of inter-related plays by
French playwright Beaumarchais. The first play, “The Barber of Seville,” was the setting for an opera by Gioachino Rossini.

It revolves around a simple premise: servants Figaro and Susanna want to get married. When the Count, Figaro’s boss, decides he wants Susanna for himself, both Figaro and Susanna try to make sure that doesn’t happen through machinations, misdirection and misunderstandings until its final, but happy, conclusion 24-hours later.

Stancil, who graduated in the spring, plays the lead servant Susanna. According to Grimes, it’s the biggest role in opera ever written, as Susanna is on-stage a majority of the time and sings more often than any other character.

“Servants in opera sing more than the upper class and faster,” Stancil said. “The upper class sings slower with fewer words.”

“The servants also drive the play,” said Grimes. “Mozart must have really loved women because they are always portrayed as very smart.”

Stancil said she was attracted to the role of Susanna because of this.

“She’s just sassy the whole time,” she said. “I’d rather be the sassy, funny one than the ‘woe is me’ character.”

Stancil also relished the challenge the material presented.

“I’ve performed scenes from ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ before, but I’ve never done an entire opera in a different language,” she said.

The students involved in the opera rehearsed six hours a day, six days a week for only three weeks. Because of the time constraints, they had to come into the rehearsal process with their music and role already memorized.

“I translated the entire opera first [from the Italian],” said Stancil about preparing for the role. “Then I’d speak the text in Italian, first without rhythm, then with rhythm and then finally with music.”

“The Marriage of Figaro” will star Nicholas Szoeke as Figaro, Stancil and Rachel Rodriguez as Susanna, Heath Martin as Count Almaviva, Lindsey Fuson as Countess Almaviva, Amber Jamison as Cherubino, Ardeen Pierre as Marcellina, Stewart Gaitan and professor of voice Michael Walsh sharing the roles of Dr. Bartolo/Antonio, David Smith as Basilio/Don Curzio, and Bryanna Johnson as Barbarina.

Admission to the performance is free, with a suggested donation to support the Opera Workshop.



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